The importance of giving young people the tools to create

music Comment by JUDITH WEBSTER, CEO of national youth arts charity Music for Youth

A long time ago, I used to teach the piano a bit. Having spent my entire professional life working with young people and music in various education or community settings, I was not keen to take on private pupils on top of my day job. However, I was persuaded to give up my Sunday afternoons to help out a friend’s son, in return for a roast dinner. The brief was simple. He had piano lessons at his primary school – his parents knew he was

really musical, but he had lost interest and didn’t get on with his rather strict teacher. They, in their wisdom, just wanted to support his love of music – without any pressure of exams. They wanted him to enjoy it. So, we started playing together on Sunday afternoons. And

playing it was. I asked him how and what he wanted to learn – and we negotiated our way through so that he didn’t always do just what he wanted, but he had enough freedom to sustain his enthusiasm. Key to this, however, was improvisation. Devoting time each week to improvising together on the piano gave my young pupil his musical wings. Twelve years later, he still avoids reading music, doesn’t play the piano much anymore but is a talented drummer, producer and composer using his laptop as his instrument, and scraping a living as a musician. There are so many reasons why young people should be given

the tools to create music. We know that involvement in active and sustained music making brings a wealth of wider educational and social benefits, now widely documented. However, being creative opens up a whole world of additional skills and possibilities. Making up your own music is an inherently personal endeavour and undertaking creative music making in a group setting facilitates a strong sense of bonding through the shared endeavour. You have a heightened sense of who you are in relation to others and a very personal sense of achievement when your ideas are taken up by others. This sense of connection is so important in today’s disconnected world, where we are continually communicating via our mobile phones but are only just realising how isolating this can be. Creative music making in a group setting gives young people a

safe space in which to make choices, form judgements, negotiate and make decisions, organise their ideas, tell stories, develop an awareness of structure and form, sequencing, think about contrast, light and shade, background and foreground, self- expression. It gives opportunities to take different roles within a group and to try out different perspectives. These softer skills and wider awareness are increasingly important for young people to equip them for their future careers and their life journey. By giving young people the tools to make their own music, we

give them a chance to expand their emotional and musical vocabulary, develop their expressive language and communicate their ideas. They can have a voice. Once you have a voice, you can change the world.

The value of recent school leavers as role

models Comment by BETH GODDARD, Future First’s Director of Programmes

It’s a positive step that the benefits of employer volunteers in the classroom are now widely recognised. Gatsby benchmark number 5 highlights multiple encounters with employers and employees as a key measure for good careers provision in schools. Bringing back alumni volunteers to share their career experience is an integral part of any good school or college careers curriculum.

Yet it is easy to presume alumni volunteers must be established in

careers to offer useful support. The benefits of younger volunteers, particularly younger alumni, in the classroom can be overlooked. Research suggests that volunteers who are close to students in

age help build life skills such as resilience. Future First often sees this in practice. An alumnus who left Witchford Village College in Cambridgeshire

in 2016 joined a World of Work Day for year nine students. He was a great role model, recalling how he only started trying in year ten and consequently found leaving school hard. The message that putting in the effort earlier pays off, delivered by someone close to current students in age and life experience carried enormous weight. The Careers Advisor at Pakefield High School near Lowestoft reported recent school leavers offered valuable insight for students focusing on career paths and GCSE subject choices. Research by the Behavioural Insights Team also suggests the

power of younger role models in giving current post-16 students knowledge and information on university education. Future First’s work with the National Collaborative Outreach Programme builds alumni communities to support greater participation in Higher Education (HE) in areas where it is low. Current students can access role models with recent understanding of the challenges of progressing to HE, and current undergraduates are keen to support students at their old school to succeed. Future First’s own statistics suggest younger alumni enjoy

volunteering in the classroom. In 2017-18, 44% of active alumni volunteers were aged16-25. Young people see benefits in supporting their old schools for themselves as well as for current students. Participating in workshops and class discussion gives volunteers with little work experience more confidence in public speaking and an opportunity to reflect on their own skills. East Norfolk Sixth Form College in Gorleston-on-Sea held an alumni evening where recent leavers could meet more experienced alumni, enabling them to access networks to support their own future careers. Bringing back a mix of experienced alumni and recent leavers is

key for current students to have a rich, varied experience. Adam Killeya, Head of Careers at Community School in Cornwall, ran Sixth Form alumni panels on ‘thinking about careers’ and ‘surviving the real world’. He explains “… the real life experience and advice that the alumni have been able to bring has made for a much livelier interesting session than we can otherwise do. It’s been particularly great to get a mix of recent leavers who students can closely identify with, and alumni with a rich vein of experience.” So it’s worth reflecting that alumni don’t need lengthy life or

career experience to give back and we shouldn’t discount the support offered by recent school leavers, undergraduates and early career alumni.

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